Whatever kind of “memory” water may have, I am certain that every person in the audience of this play will have real memories stirred by it. As three daughters muse, reminisce and scrap in the wake of their mother’s death, they reveal the intense normality of family life, aspects of which all of us have experienced to at least some extent – or are extremely likely to do so.
This well-wrought play cleverly plumbs the depths of family dynamics, as some protagonists “remember “ things that didn’t happen, accuse each other of various misdemeanours, rake over the past in individual ways, and reveal layers of unwanted memories and secrets that their owners would rather stay hidden. Amid the emotional ups and downs of grief, rivalry, loss, fear, self pity and hate, there are some very funny lines, and some very well executed comedic scenes, which relieve the seriousness of the issues, and add to the richness of this multi-layered play.
All the actors portray the variety of these familiar family roles with skill and conviction, and with sort-of North Country accents – most of the time. Ulli Birve, as the neurologist daughter who is treating a patient who has memory loss, emphasises the running theme of memory. She philosophises periodically with her dead mother (Eugenia Fragos) digging up more memories, and memorably playing the “poor me” role.
Kate Roberts as the responsible eldest competes with both sisters for the most hardly-done-by crown, and displays fine skill in portraying a range of emotion, including being fogged by grog. Nadia Rossi as the youngest and wildest sweeps and zooms around being a fine foil to the seriousness of her sisters. All three, together with Tony Briggs as a married lover, and Peter Ferris as a mostly long-suffering husband combine in masterful madness with mother’s clothes, at the same time as dealing very crisply with interjecting themes. Director Catherine Fitzgerald has orchestrated this scene to the edge of slapstick without going over, so that it is one of the highlights of the play.
A stark white box outlines the set by Mary Moore and emphasises the closed-in nature of these lives, each with their secrets. Lighting by Susan Grey-Gardner and music by Catherine Oates nicely complement this fine production.
State Theatre Company of South Australia presents
THE MEMORY OF WATER
by Shelagh Stephenson
Director: Catherine Fitzgerald
Venue: Dunstan Playhouse
Dates: 31 July – 22 August